Just 20 games remain in the 2014-15 regular season, and it’s the most densely packed portion of the Carolina Hurricanes’ schedule.
The Canes will play their final 20 games over the next 37 days. Only once in that time period will the Canes have two days in between games; a day or less – the team plays three back-to-backs – separates all the rest.
Thirteen of those 20 games will be played at home. In March alone, the Canes play 11 games in Raleigh and host two season-long, five-game homestands.
With such a compact schedule, time management is crucial.
“It’s going to be really important, especially with the two five-game homestands this month,” head coach Bill Peters said after Thursday’s practice. “You could grind them into the ice and not having anything left on game night, and that’s not what we want to do.”
The team’s schedule for the remainder of the season is essentially rotating days of practices and games with a handful of travel and days off sprinkled in.
“We’ve got manage [our time] properly,” Peters said on Wednesday. “We want to make sure we’re managing our energy levels and have real good structure to what we do over the next 10 days.”
This week featured the most practice time the Canes will have for the balance of the season. After a scheduled day off on Tuesday, Carolina held hour-long practices on Wednesday and Thursday.
On Wednesday, the team skated and skated and skated some more.
“You look at the schedule, and it may be the last time we’re able to do that all year. It’s just a unique situation coming off a day off and three days before you play, so it’s just a good opportunity to blow it out,” Peters said. “A good opportunity to get some cardio work done, and I thought the guys skated real well.”
Thursday was more of a teaching practice.
“A lot of new guys and new D-men, and we want to set them up to be successful,” Peters said. “It doesn’t hurt the rest of us to have a little refresher course either.”
So what can be expected in the Hurricanes final 20 games?
“We’ve got to make sure we get a read on all the new guys in order to make good decisions in the summer. We’ve got to make sure some of these guys finish properly, too,” Peters said. “It’s going to be a good test for the young guys to make sure they get a second wind and finish, and our veteran guys are going to lead the way. We’re going to play to win, and in these 20 games, I want to have a good record to end the season.”
With the trade deadline in the rear view mirror, the Hurricanes now know the group of 20-some with which they have to work.
“It’s a breath of fresh air for everybody around the league. All 30 teams go through it, and it’s a stressful time,” Peters said of the deadline. “It’s just nice to now know what you’re group is going to look like. You dig in and go to work.”
Peters said the team plans on experimenting with the forward lines and defensive pairings as game No. 82 draws closer. The Staal brothers could center two different lines. Elias Lindholm could get a look in the middle. Rasmus Rissanen and Michal Jordan could see valuable minutes on defense.
“We’ve got all the freedom in the world. We’ve got to make sure we know exactly what we have,” Peters said. “Everything is fair game. We can’t go into the summer wondering if a guy can play in a certain situation. Can this guy be a top six? We have to have the answers.”
In goal, the Hurricanes don’t plan on deviating from the approach they’ve employed this season.
“We’re not going to split. We haven’t split all year,” Peters said. “We’ll keep doing what we’re doing and make sure we’re intelligent about how we handle our goalies.”
And, ultimately, the Hurricanes aim to build a solid foundation moving forward.
“That’s the biggest thing we’re trying to do: make sure we have good habits that carry over moving forward and continue to get better,” Peters said. “We’ve played good here recently. We weren’t exactly dialed in in Chicago. … Now we’ve got to get back at it. We’ve got a very good schedule in the month of March.”